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Top 10 ‘most watched films you have never heard of’ in Wales

Pride, I Am Not a Witch, Dark Horse, Eternal Beauty, Gwen, Submarine, Journey’s End, The Lighthouse and Queerama are some of the most recent critically acclaimed and well-known films either produced by Welsh talent or filmed in Wales – all of which have been backed by National Lottery funding through the BFI and/or Ffilm Cymru Wales.  

However, some of the most watched films in Wales are not mainstream blockbusters, they don’t feature BAFTA winning actors nor do they feature rousing music. They are a vast range of documentaries, home movies, news footage, forgotten TV programmes and government films from throughout the last century that feature in the National Lottery funded BFI project – Britain On Film.

The no1 most watched local film in Wales is Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales) – a record of one of the last train ride from Swansea’s Victoria Station to Pontarddulais before it closed, followed by Snow Llanelli 1982 (Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales) a home movie which shows Llanelli as a winter wonderland as snow covers its streets, and icicles hang from the roofs of buildings.

Britain on Film is an ambitious project- one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken by the BFI and one of the most successful with over 75 million online views to date. It has made over 10,000 titles from 120 years’ worth of films available to the British public for free, drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK.

The Top 10 most watched films in Wales through Britain on Film

1. Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (June), Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A record of one of the last train rides – on the “old puff puff” – from Swansea’s Victoria Station to Pontardulais. The line was closed soon afterwards, part of the reshaping of the railway system. Watch online >

2. Snow Llanelli 1982, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A home movie which shows Llanelli as a winter wonderland as snow covers its streets, and icicles hang from the roofs of buildings. Watch online >

3. Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley (1965), Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A film about the controversial drowning of the village of Capel Celyn near Bala to provide water for Liverpool. Watch online >

4. Camwell Personal Film No. 62: Welshpool Raven Square Railway (1963) BFI

We see one of the original W&L locomotives with a train of volunteers as they cross the level crossing and take a winding trip into the town section. Watch online >

5. Come with Me to Cardiff (1954) BFI

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby tours Cardiff a year before it became Wales’ capital city. Watch online >

6. Connah’s Quay Carnival and Fete 1965, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

The Connah’s Quay Old People’s Association demonstrates that it’s not just the young that are imbued with carnival spirit. Watch online >

7. To the Four Corners (1957), BFI reproduced with kind permission of Unilever

Rare colour footage of multiracial Cardiff is the obvious highlight of this travelogue. Watch online >

8. Rails To Talsarn (1964) Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

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Horse-drawn railway: ‘Prince’ and ‘Corwen’ pull slate wagons from Pen-yr-Orsedd quarry to Tal-y-sarn station, guided by Mr Oswald Jones, guard/driver. Watch online >

9. Aberystwyth Promenade (1969) Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

The King’s Hall, a landmark building in Aberystwyth from its official opening in 1934 to its demolition in 1989, is seen here (exterior only) in its heyday, when it provided amusements and dodgems downstairs and a concert/dance hall upstairs where The Rolling Stones, Paul Tortelier, Led Zeppelin, the Halle Orchestra and Slade all came to play. Watch online >

10. Llanidloes 1965, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

Take a trip to Llanidloes and view this market town as it was in 1965. See the cars of the period, the railway station, the timbered buildings and a petrol filling station. Watch online >

Comedian and amateur film historian, Paul Merton said: “Britain on Film is an ambitious project that has made the rich unseen film history of the UK accessible to the whole nation, with thousands of titles from 120 years’ worth of films drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK and Northern Ireland from Victorian times to the 1990s.

“Whilst you or I may never have heard of them before and they will never trouble the weekly box office lists, the films have captured the imagination of the British public and amassed an incredible 75 million online views. They are incredible and are a wonderful way to get lost in our history and heritage for an hour, or even a day. I love it, and all thanks to those pink tickets at newsagents.”

In June this year (2019), a project to create a National Broadcast Archive in Wales was given the go ahead thanks to a grant of nearly £5 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The funding will help ensure around 240,000 hours of radio and television footage from Wales, charting almost 100 years of broadcasting and including many iconic moments from 20th-century Welsh history and culture, will be made accessible and kept safe for future generations. Wales’ archive, the first of its kind in the UK, is based at four digital hubs in Aberystwyth, Wrexham, Carmarthen and Cardiff.

Iola Baines, Moving Image Curator, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales, said: “We’ve been thrilled to be able to share so many film treasures from the Screen and Sound Archive’s collection with viewers across the UK – almost 800 unique films, telling unknown stories, revealing familiar (or hidden) landscapes, and shining a light on nuggets of local or social history that had been nestling in the vaults but are now digitally preserved and available to all to enjoy and learn from. The ‘top ten’ films from Wales on the BFI Player tell such engaging stories from the length and breadth of Wales –  some very poignant, such as ‘Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley’ (1965), about the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn near Bala; some full of nostalgia, such as ‘Rails To Talsarn’ (1964) or Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (June), and others simply celebrating the joy of community gatherings.”

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